I’m not affiliated with and don’t have any knowledge of the newspaper business. You could make the case that this doesn’t make my opinion worth much, but if you consider the performance over the last few years of people who do know the business, maybe doing something different warrants some consideration.
At my newspaper, we have been distributing daily top 10 lists of articles based on page views to the entire newsroom for a year or more. The lists are not used for compensation and do seem to provide instant market insights about what readers found interesting.
The way I see it, newspapers, for now, are positioned to provide three things that are at a high premium and that most blogs/bloggers can’t deliver. I think most would be wise to capitalize on these by shifting the state of mind from being a newspaper to becoming a news organization/outlet/center:
Not just good writing. For now, newspapers have a large market share of excellent writers. That’s a part of the market I’d want to keep. Let the good writers go if you have to, but keep the excellent writers around. That means paying them well. If you don’t, you will eventually lose the excellent writers to their own endeavors, and you’ll be stuck with nothing but good writers. Good writing is nice, but it doesn’t make you much more special that the thousands of independent blogs that feature above average writers.
The time, resources, and energy it takes to dig (and dig, and dig) for a story set newspapers and real journalists apart from everyone else. Give us more stories that take time to develop. Give us stories that, in short, no one else can. In most cases, that would mean increased concentration on local news, and pulling back on stories happening elsewhere. And sports? Please. The account of a football game that was attended by 100,000 people, viewed by millions, and opined about (real time) on countless message boards and blogs has little value the day after the event. Does it sell copies? I’m sure of it. Does it sell as many copies as it did 10 years ago? I’d guess probably not, per capita. And if you’re now going to count web clicks instead of copies, newspaper web sites definitely don’t have the market share that the print version of the paper had 10 years ago. It doesn’t seem like a good place for resources long term. It may be time to start scaling back or redirecting resources.
Being community hubs
Newspapers have a huge asset that takes years to create–name recognition in their local markets. It makes sense to capitalize on that by being first to that market with resources that connect the community. Instead of viewing local bloggers as competitors and hacks, find a way to leverage them as a way to drive traffic. Become the place that the community uses to find local blogs. The bad news? It’s may already be too late. In my local market, the News Sentinel caught on remarkably early, and even goes so far as to feature bloggers on the front page of their web site on the weekends and has built a community aggregator. In other markets, it has taken a while, and links to other sites and blogs still aren’t featured or easy to find. As a result, other organizations have stepped up and are trying to fill the void left by what should have been the logical market owner.
It is great to see some newspapers are catching on and are willing to try something new or go in a different direction. At the same time, it’s frustrating to see the industry as a whole belly aching about its problems. Face the facts–not only are the rules of the game changing rapidly, but the game itself is evolving.
I mean, this isn’t the record industry. You guys may actually have to change.